Competition around TD Garden was scarce this preseason. The seventh-defenseman battle between Steve Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski came to an anticlimactic finish when Kampfer went down with an injury. The competition for the 12th forward spot between Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Caron still hasn’t really been resolved, with Pouliot and Caron each earning starts and scratches in the first three games.
After that, perhaps the next most intriguing battle was between locker-room neighbors Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley. The pair were both guaranteed plenty of ice time –– the battle was a matter of who their linemates would be for those shifts. One figured to step into Mark Recchi’s retired skates on Patrice Bergeron’s right wing. The other was likely play on the third line with Chris Kelly and the winner of the Pouliot-Caron battle.
Through three games, Bruins’ coach Claude Julien has opted to put Peverley on Bergeron’s wing more often than not, to which this blogger says, simply, “Bravo.”
First, Peverley is a good fit with Bergeron and winger Brad Marchand. I could waste a few hundred words explaining why, but, frankly, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont says everything I’d want to say better than I could say it here.
Instead, I’ll use this space to talk about why Seguin would be a poor fit on Bergeron’s line.
Bergeron is widely considered one of the best defensive pivots in all of hockey, something Julien is clearly aware of. It’s not just talk from Julien –– he uses the 26-year-old Quebec native in a way that signifies his respect for his defensive game.
Last season, Julien let Bergeron take just 325 faceoffs in the offensive zone, as opposed to 437 defensive-zone draws and 425 neutral-zone puck drops.
His Ozone%, which is the percentage of offensive-zone draws versus defensive-zone draws –– ignoring neutral zone faceoffs –– was just 42.7 percent. Only 28 centers who played at least 40 games started a lower percentage of plays in the offensive zone, and it’s worth nothing that, of the bottom 30 pivots on that list, only Nashville’s David Legwand comes close to Bergeron’s 2.46 points per 60 minutes of ice time.
See those numbers for yourself here.
Such a slanted slate of zone starts is wise coaching by Julien. When you have an elite defender who’s capable of winning over 56 percent of faceoffs, like he did last year, you want that guy starting in the defensive zone.
Which brings me to Seguin. The 19-year-old is visibly stronger this fall, having put on 10 lbs of muscle in the offseason. He’s also arrived ready to take on more defensive responsibility, and by all accounts, has made some truly remarkable strides from this time last year in that regard.
He’s also not one of the Bruins’ best defensive forwards. Not even close. Bergeron is elite. David Krejci isn’t far behind Bergeron. Peverley and Chris Kelly have rapidly taken to the B’s defensive system since being acquired last year at the deadline. Fourth-liners Greg Campbell and Daniel Paille are among the team’s top penalty killers for a reason.
Seguin is also the team’s most skilled offensive player. If anybody on that roster should be seeing as much offensive ice time as possible, it’s Seguin. That’s not to say he should be treated like Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who registered Ozone percentages over 70 percent last year.
But he should see far more than half his draws inside the opponents’ blue line, something that shouldn’t happen on a line centered by Bergeron.
When you have great defenders, let them defend. When you have a skill guy like Seguin, let him do his thing in the offensive zone. In this case, the best way to do that is pretty clear – keep him as far from Bergeron’s wing as possible.